Transient Ischemic Attacks - "Mini Strokes"
Mar 1, 2016
By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy
In February, my mom and others volunteered their time canvassing going door to door for the heart and stroke foundation. The money goes toward research, education and other work done by the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation. We know how common heart attacks and stroke have become and most of us have a loved one who has suffered a stroke. The foundation has spent large amounts of effort and resources to educate the public on the importance of recognizing the signs of a stroke in yourself or a loved one. The classic symptoms include weakness, trouble speaking, vision problems, headache and severe dizziness. It is absolutely crucial to recognize a stroke early and get help immediately. Minutes and seconds can mean the difference between life and death. In fact, the probability of a successful recovery is also very "time to treatment" dependant.
Even though we have collected enormous amounts of information on strokes they can still be extremely hard or even impossible to predict. However; there is an event called a mini-stroke or a transient ischemic attack, which often strikes a patient before they have a major stroke. The Heart and Stroke Foundation reports over 15 000 people in Canada every year experience a transient ischemic attack or TIA. Many of these TIAs go unreported, making it an underestimated statistic.
A TIA or mini stroke occurs when there is a temporary interruption of blow flow to the brain. This is due to a clot or plaque on the artery stopping blood flow. If blood is not getting to the brain, neither is fresh oxygen. Plaque is a buildup of cholesterol and fatty substances on the artery wall. Think of your artery as plumbing. If you narrow the size of the plumbing, pressure increases, along with the risk of a blockage. With a smaller diameter the amount of flow can decrease as well. To further compound the problem, the plaque itself can also break off and causes blockages.
A TIA will produce the same symptoms of a stroke, except they subside within a couple of minutes or hours. Due to the symptoms being short lived and often fairly mild, many people have had a TIA without knowing it.
Some may ask why a TIA is significant if the symptoms are only temporary. They are significant because they act as a warning sign of a full blown stroke. A TIA should also be considered an emergency. Call 911 immediately. Sometimes the clot causing a TIA can do further damage, so clot busting medications are required. Treatment options are extremely time-sensitive so it is important for quick medical attention.
TIAs and strokes can be treated or prevented with blood thinners. There are a variety of blood thinners on the market. The most popular is Aspirin 81 mg, commonly referred to as baby aspirin. It is available with or without a prescription, but you should always consult your physician to see whether you need to be taking aspirin. It can be an extremely good investment, costing approximately $3.00 per month. If you have had previous cardiac health problems or even a stroke you may be on prescription blood thinners such as warfarin or Plavix. There are new blood thinners on the market so talk to one of your clinic pharmacists for more information.
Other important medications which can reduce strokes or a TIA are blood pressure pills, cholesterol pills and diabetes medications to control sugar levels. It is important to keep blood pressure low to not cause stress on the heart or any of the arteries. Cholesterol pills help prevent plaque buildup on the arteries. Cholesterol pills and blood pressure pills are sometimes difficult to take because we do not feel or notice any benefit from them. However; they are working around the clock to keep your heart and vascular system healthy. It is absolutely crucial to take these medications every day. Of course diet and lifestyle changes are the best choice you can make to prevent strokes, but once again we often do not adhere to the necessary changes.
If you are having trouble remembering to take your medication Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy has some great technology to help you stay on track with your medications. On our new, improved website at www.dcp.ca you can sign up for prescription refill reminders and even refill your medications online. In store, we have an automated blood pressure machine to help monitor your progress.
If you have a TIA or even think you have had a TIA, seek medical attention. There is more than likely no problem. However, it can potentially help you prevent a problem. It can help you prevent a stroke and the unfortunate devastation a stroke causes.